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 Disabled transit driver ordered back to work

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PostSubject: Disabled transit driver ordered back to work   Sat Apr 18, 2009 4:25 pm

Disabled transit driver ordered back to work

Felled by disease, transit worker may be fired if he doesn't return to job

By MICHELE MANDEL





Todd Kirby's vision is impaired, his hands so swollen that he can barely grasp a steering wheel and he's heavily doped up with morphine to ease his pain.

Would you want him as your bus driver?

Mississauga Transit does.

He's been diagnosed with sarcoidosis, the rare autoimmune disease that killed comedian Bernie Mac, and has been unable to work for the last five years, yet Kirby's employer has been threatening to fire him unless he gets back behind the wheel.

Most days he can barely get off the couch.

"I don't even have a driver's licence right now," he says, just back to his modest townhouse from yet another appointment with his doctor. "I don't want to put anybody at risk on the road by going back. It just doesn't make any sense. It's just harassment."


The frustrated 46-year-old father of two teens says he would like nothing better than to get back to the job he loved. He was the kind of driver who actually greeted his passengers and liked to chat with them. But in 2004, after three years with Mississauga Transit, his body suddenly began to betray him. He woke one morning with a sudden fever of 105F and an inability to bend his painful elbows and knees. A lung biopsy and 10 weeks later, he was finally diagnosed with sarcoidosis.

Characterized by the growth of tiny clumps of inflammatory cells in different areas of the body, including the lungs, the disease has left him short of breath and with constant fatigue and joint pain. Where he once played hockey three times a week and coached his kids, he now spends most of his time in bed or on the couch.

His world has shrunk to a life that rarely expands beyond the walls of his home. "It's been terrible," he confides. "You're proud when you bring in a paycheque. You don't want to be home collecting insurance. My wife's had to pick up the slack and get a job working late hours.

"I just feel like I'm a burden, really. I'm just in the way."

His illness has strained their marriage and their family. "I've gone from being a spouse to being a caregiver," admits his wife, Risa, with a tired shrug. "The kids don't have a great relationship with him anymore. This disease has forced him to stop doing most of the things he used to do with them. It feels like I'm a single parent, it truly does."

Until recently, he only managed to support his family through his long-term disability benefits, but now even those are gone. In January, Sun Life Financial declared him "recovered" and cut him off. He would love to know how the insurer suddenly decided he's fine when his own rheumatologist disagrees and he's never been examined by any of Sun Life's medical experts. How is he cured when he continues to suffer as much as ever?

In their letter to him, the insurance company cryptically refers to video surveillance that shows "observed activities that are inconsistent with your reported restrictions."

Kirby insists he rarely even leaves his house. "I have maybe three good days a month, I just can't tell you when they're going to be," he says with exasperation. "I've given up everything. I can't remember the last time I took my wife out."

His insurance company refuses to discuss their reasons, hiding behind a veil of privacy. "We're not going to talk about details of his case," said Steve Kee, assistant vice-president of communications, hinting that there is more than we know.

The Kirbys would love to hear what that is so they can meet it head on. Instead, they say Sun Life ignores their calls.

"I want to get back to work more than they want me back to work," Kirby insists, "but it's just not possible right now."

So they subsist on Risa's part-time job and help from his in-laws, while his mortgage payments have fallen two months in arrears.

And now it seems Mississauga Transit wants to get rid of him for good if he won't start driving again.

The company has already tried to fire him once. Back in November, 2004, shortly after his diagnosis, he was terminated because he'd allowed his "BZ" bus licence to lapse. Of course it wasn't in good standing, he says. He was seriously ill and unable to renew it. His union fought on his behalf and Kirby was reinstated.

It's been a battle of threats and harassment ever since. Kirby understands his employer's frustration, but it is nothing compared to his own. He keeps hoping that his doctors will finally find the right medications to keep his illness at bay or that Mississauga Transit can find him a part-time position that doesn't involve driving while on 120 mg of OxyContin a day.

They've now called him into a meeting to discuss his "future" with the transit company. And he's pretty sure that means he's being fired -- again.

Contacted by the Sun, his employer wouldn't discuss Kirby's predicament. In an e-mail, Mississauga Transit director Geoff Marinoff said they can't "comment on such employee issues for privacy reasons and out of respect for our employees."

How considerate. But if respecting their employees is so high on their list, perhaps they should consider not firing a driver who is ill through no fault of his own.


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PostSubject: Re: Disabled transit driver ordered back to work   Sat Apr 18, 2009 4:42 pm

Ah geez.
Makes me think less of people everyday.
Now what would happen if the guy went back to work and got into an accident.
They would have a huge lawsuit on their hands.

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